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ROADMAP FOR ORGANIZATIONAL RESILIENCY: AN ARMY OF PROBLEM-SOLVERS





by Beth Crowley



Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that the idea of resilience seems increasingly important in predicting overall health, whether it be physical, mental or financial. Resilience is not a new concept; resilient people have always given the world hope that the human spirit can survive and thrive in an uncertain world. In most stories, the hero fights through dangerous situations against all odds to save people in dire circumstances. Upon the hero’s triumphant return to those who were saved, he or she is often praised for having the resiliency to overcome obstacles and return home. According to Dictionary.com, resiliency is defined as “the capacity to withstand or to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness”.

With respect to material science, resiliency is “the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity”. Resilient is the exact opposite of fragile. When faced with adversity, resilient people bend but don’t break and they bounce back even better than before. Damar Hamlin, from the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed on the field during an American football game on January 2, 2023. For most people, such an event would probably have ended a career, and maybe even a life. Miraculously, Damar not only survived his health battle but less than 1 year later he returned to the game he loves, becoming a symbol of American resiliency.


The US economy, long predicted to be entering a recession, “grew at a surprisingly strong 3.3% pace last quarter, pointing to continued resilience” (AP 1/25/2024). In our increasingly dynamic world, improving the capability to adapt to unpredictability enables people and economies to not only survive but grow. The COVID-19 pandemic shocked the world and exposed the fragility of our global supply network. In this post-pandemic era, it is not surprising that the idea of organizational toughness and the ability to recover quickly would be highlighted as aspirational by Business Leaders. The Deloitte 2022 Global Resilience Report defines Business Resilience as “the capability of an organization to be prepared for disruption and to adapt and thrive in a changing environment. It isn’t purely defensive in orientation. It is also progressive, building the capacity for agility, adaptation, learning, and regeneration to ensure that organizations are able to deal with more complex and severe events and be fit for the future”. The Report, compiled from a survey of Senior Business Executives, states that Executives overwhelmingly recognize the Strategic Imperative to build a Resilient Organization. When asked about the success of converting that strategy into a Resilience Implementation Plan, the same Executives admitted that they were failing to understand how to take meaningful action toward that goal.


According to Forbes magazine, “the case for elevating resilience to the C-Suite gets stronger with every new crisis” (Forbes, Rise of the Chief Resilience Officer, Sept 2021). Resilient organizations can quickly and seamlessly respond and adapt to changes that could threaten operations, people, assets, brand or reputation. It’s easy to understand the competitive advantage of a business with shorter lead times, and the flexibility to process last minute order changes without delay. Shorter lead times require less inventory (and less working capital) and will therefore get the positive attention of leadership and/or shareholders. If this is true, is Resiliency the Next Best Thing to accelerate Organizational Performance Improvement? Is there a roadmap to guide businesses to resilience and how do we measure it? What are the appropriate Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)? How do we create the structure that enables a business to pivot and thrive when faced with uncertainty?


The earliest references to organizational resiliency are related to the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Program. The Program was created to institutionalize resilience in city governments, increasing the probability of success when faced with unforeseen events (many failed when faced with a crisis and a lack of contingency planning). The Rockefeller Foundation provided financial support for city governments willing to execute a process that included the creation of a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO), the execution of a Resilience Strategy Planning Process, and dedicated resources focused solely on execution of the Resilience Planning Process. This process mirrors that of many corporate structures where centralized resource teams are deployed to communicate and implement corporate policies. The 100 Resilient Cities Program has been effective, although in many cases the long-term nature of successful implementation support was underestimated and momentum toward building resilience was not sustained.


The conclusion of both the 100 Resilient Cities Program and the Business Executives in the Deloitte Report is that the difficult work is in the execution of a resilience strategy. Organizational resiliency takes time and practice, as it is the cumulative result of collective experiences. Other than high-level guidelines for the 100 Resilient Cities Program, there isn’t much information on the method to transform an organization from one that is barely surviving to one that eagerly anticipates rapid change as a challenge to conquer and learn from. To bridge that gap, let’s examine how a Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) might create a culture that actively supports and promotes proactively designing agile, innovative and sustainable processes flexible enough to adapt to rapid change.


An Executive Champion for Organizational Resilience, the Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) would be focused on incorporating the three pillars of resiliency (risk management, innovation, and sustainability) into the DNA of the company. A CRO must be authentic and aware, able to influence without direct authority and drive coordinated action across all functional areas of the business. This role is accountable for improving the ability to meet organization goals without the day-to-day responsibility or resources. To be successful, responsibility for risk management must be driven to the lowest possible level of the organization. The CRO must find a way to motivate and elicit the help of every employee and prove that leadership will be there to support them if they make a change that doesn’t yield the results as planned.


Cross-functional problem-solving must be encouraged and supported by all Leaders. Business processes in and across traditional departmental functions must be mapped, analyzed, improved, and learned from. The new, more resilient processes must enable self-transformation and empower employees to solve the problems they encounter. This evaluating and refining must continue until processes reach the desired level of resiliency. If business resilience means having the flexibility to adapt and create a new normal that is stronger than the original, isn’t that the true essence of Lean and Continuous Improvement?


Regardless of the name of the strategy used to get there, an organizational culture that thrives on continuous improvement is improving their resilience every day. Just-in-time (JIT) and one-piece flow describe an outcome to be desired, a vision of the perfect world where every process is 100% resilient and operating at a 6 sigma capability. A lean or continuous improvement strategy incorporates the vision of JIT and one-piece flow with the idea that investing in the people who do the work is the best way to get closer to the goal. Lean thinking is a leadership mindset that prioritizes the cultivation of an army of problem-solvers who, when given the tools and the time, will create resilient processes with built-in discipline and ownership.


Toyota is well-known as the global leader on executing lean and continuous improvement strategies. Toyota expects uncertainty and they are prepared to pivot and thrive when faced with it. To this end, Toyota builds flexibility, decision-making frameworks (risk management) and continuous improvement into all their business processes. The Toyota Way doesn’t mention resilience as a specific goal, but the Corporate Creed promotes being studious, creative, and striving to stay ahead of the times (innovation). Toyota’s Corporate Philosophy highlights respect for the natural environment (sustainability) and the importance of forward-looking activities (innovation). By any measure, Toyota is one of the most resilient companies in the world.


The Resilience Imperative: Succeeding in Uncertain Times

If you think that organizational resiliency sounds like a great strategy for your organization, but you don’t know how to get there, learn from Toyota: implementing lean and continuous improvement methodologies will improve your organizational resiliency. The time to start is yesterday. In a recent article entitled “We’re still at risk for another ‘everything shortage’”, a supply chain expert and partner in McKinsey’s Miami office describes the current global condition like this: “…companies will need to continue to be resilient, adapting as their supply chains evolve…by applying a combination of resilience, agility, and sustainability, companies can future-proof their supply chains” (Freightwaves 12/14/23, Rachel Premack)


Just like operating 100% just-in-time in a global supply chain, resiliency is aspirational. It is the passionate pursuit of perfection. We operate in an increasingly complex, interconnected global system and much of it is out of our control. The only thing that we know for sure is that circumstances will change, mechanical equipment will fail and the weather will disrupt the best logistics plan. The only way to protect against catastrophic system failures is to improve the process by which organizations identify and react to change.


A Resilient Strategy is a Lean Strategy, and an effective way to implement that strategy is with Executive Sponsorship responsible for creating end-to-end global capabilities. The most qualified candidates for Chief Resilience Officer positions are those who have been practicing lean and continuous improvement for many years, in several companies, and across different industries. These experienced leaders know how to recognize and overcome resistance to change. They have success stories of resilient organizations with armies of problem-solvers, along with examples of less effective projects and how time and experimentation turned negative trends around. If you invest in your people and demand authenticity and self-awareness from your leaders, together they will build resilient, sustainable processes that can absorb stress and still deliver consistent value for customers and owners.


Change is hard. Using simple language is key to preventing resistance, and the idea of resilience is universally respected and resonates with every person at every level of every organization. As opposed to the more abstract Lean or Six Sigma, the concept of resilience conjures concrete images of personal triumphs and may make the importance of business resilience more relatable to the workforce. It’s a change in mindset for all, one that might determine whether an organization survives the next disruption. As leaders, are you willing to be blamed for ignoring the warning signs, or will you recognize and invest in the strategic imperative to grow your organization’s resiliency? Only time will tell.


 

Beth Crowley loves Coaching Organizations through Cultural Transformations! I have a passion for Operations and Continuous Improvement & I thoroughly enjoy the opportunities and challenges of the journey. Beth worked with numerous Fortune 500 companies, guiding them on the path to better effectiveness of their people & processes.

Experience & Expertise includes: Lean Leadership, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Change Management, Project Management, Training Development & Facilitation, Public Speaking, Value Stream Optimization, Leadership Coaching, Operational Excellence, Process Improvement, Waste Elimination, Operational Assessments, Program Management, Strategy Development & Implementation, Train-the-Trainer, Continuous Improvement (Kaizen) Event Planning & Execution.


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